The Digital Skeptic:'s Election Results: Numbers Are Worthless
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For Brian Dalessandro, it's all about telling a true story -- which is remarkable, considering Dalessandro is not a writer, movie maker or painter. He's a so-called data scientist, one of the young turks ruling information-obsessed Wall Street, Madison Avenue and the Web.
"I did data science well before it was sexy," Dalessandro told me during what has to be the most fascinating email conversation I have had this year. "I'll be doing it long after it becomes passe."
Dalessandro is vice president of data science at Media6Degrees, a next-gen scientific marketing firm with offices on 18th Street in Manhattan. He is one of the go-to data players for A-list clientele such as Sears (SHLD) , Tropicana (PEP) and AT&T (T) . And investors know it. The firm's backers include similarly top-shelf venture shops including Menlo Ventures and Venrock, the folks with skin in the game at Apple (AAPL) , DoubleClick and Intel (INTC) .
Thing is, after last week's election, it seems Dalessandro's passion for truth in numbers is also the stuff of mainstream politics.
No less than The Wall Street Journal , The Guardian , BusinessWeek, Politico and USA Today , to name a few, featured serious coverage on who got it right -- and who got it wrong -- among election pollsters and data nerds.
"The result was a big victory for many number analysts," wrote Harry J. Enten, who covered pollsters for The Guardian .
Polling geeks even have a rock star: one Nate Silver, whose FiveThirtyEight blog did the data deep-dive for election forecasts over at The New York Times . Silver polls the polls for what's really real in election poll results.
To get a deeper feel for finding the daylight in numbers, Dalessandro has been showing me around underneath the data scientist's hood when polling polls for the past several weeks.
Data is no savior
First off, the pure utter worthlessness of the vast amount of information out there is absolutely confirmed by Dalessandro.
"Very few companies survive on selling data," he said. "Data is so cheap that these companies end up pivoting and selling service."
What Dalessandro made clear is that even well-organized data are not enough to eke out an actionable prediction. That takes -- guess what? -- a real live human essentially playing CSI's Dr. Gil Grissom, sifting through the noisy, dirty numbers for what actually went down.
Taking Mr. Silver as an example, Dalessandro broke it out this way.
"It looks like Nate Silver does a weighted average of polls," he said. He explained that the weights are probably determined by factors such as the freshness of the poll, prior accuracy of the poll, trustworthiness of the organization and perceived partisanship of who is doing the polling.